December is not only the final month of the year, it is one where every single remaining Oscar contender is crammed in. After 11 months of movies that are mostly light and mediocre, more than half of the Oscar bait movies are jammed into one month. This year, the biggest Oscar films released in those first 11 months are Slumdog Millionaire, Milk and even The Dark Knight. While those films build awards buzz, several others will be aiming for attention, and even a little box office, in December.
But even though these Oscar bait movies haven’t been released to the public yet, select critics have gotten to view most of them. At this point, all but a couple movies that will dominate Oscar talk in December and January have reviews and feedback, both good and bad. These early reactions have set the tone for their future, and for what movie goers should expect when they finally get to see them.
By far, the most anticipated film is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, with Brad Pitt as a man who ages backwards. Benjamin Button uses ground breaking new special effects technology so Pitt can actually play the character as a 90 year old baby and beyond. These effects and director David Fincher’s trademark visual style have dominated most talk in the early reviews.
Publications like Variety and the Hollywood Reporter, as well as Oscar blogs like In Contention and Awards Daily, predict big success for Benjamin Button and rave about the movie itself. Pitt, Cate Blanchett, and Taraji P Henson are all being talked about for acting nominations as well.
However, among the early Benjamin Button talkback is a bit of a divide. Half the early reviews praise both the visuals and Benjamin Button’s emotional impact, setting it up as a possible tearjerker. But others admire Benjamin Button, yet are left a little cold and say that the special effects overshadow the story. When Benjamin Button opens on Christmas, audiences will either be crying or regarding it as more of a technical achievement. Oscar nominations will be coming, but if more people think it is effects driven, it might hurt its chance to win.
While Benjamin Button closes out December, Frost/Nixon and Doubt, two adaptations of hit Broadway plays, start it off. For Doubt, as expected, most of the buzz is for the actors. Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Viola Davis have all gotten major Oscar talk in early reviews. However, judging by the reviews and buzz, Doubt may have better Oscar shots for the actors than for Best Picture.
A negative review for Streep from Variety also threw pundits for a loop, as she isn’t quite a lock for that third Oscar now. But a 15’th nomination for Streep is certain- although Davis is the actress that most are really won over by in her one 12 minute scene. Doubt’s Best Picture shot is more up in the air.
For Frost/Nixon, there was some early bad and mixed buzz when it premiered in London. However, since it started screening in America, reviews are getting more and more stronger. Frank Langella’s Oscar buzz for Best Actor as Richard Nixon has stayed strong throughout. If Frost/Nixon keeps getting strong writeups, and Langella’s stock keeps riding, it can ride into a Best Picture slot. Thus far, Frost/Nixon seems to be getting better writeups by the week.
Another big boost has arrived recently for Revolutionary Road. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet’s long awaited reunion was starting to get lost in the Oscar shuffle. But Revolutionary Road instantly shot back up the charts after initial screenings. Responses from blogs and early trades have been through the roof, especially for DiCaprio, Winslet and new Supporting Actor contender Michael Shannon. Revolutionary Road may be no Titanic, but this time, DiCaprio and Winslet may both have shots for long overdue Oscars of their own. The film itself may reap benefits if they get that far.
The biggest mystery of the Oscar race is Clint Eastwood’s last minute entry, Gran Torino. None of the trades or blogs have seen it yet, but they have gotten second hand reports. Those that have read the script, and the select few that got a sneak peek, all say that Eastwood may sneak up and win Best Actor. Partially because Eastwood might actually be that good, and partially because everyone suspects this is his last acting part.
However, as buzz builds for Eastwood’s future Best Actor campaign, far fewer people are talking up Gran Torino for Best Picture. If Eastwood really will be a serious Best Actor contender, that may well be Gran Torino’s major Oscar contribution. No one will know for sure until blogs and critics see it for themselves in the coming weeks. But for now, rumors and speculation about Eastwood’s performance are overshadowing the film already.
The remaining Oscar contenders have small hopes. Will Smith’s Seven Pounds has no screenings yet, but its main Oscar hopes were always supposed to be just for Smith. But with the Best Actor race crowded as it is, Smith may find no room anyway. Che got very controversial writeups when it was at Cannes, and may find the same fate if it ever gets into theaters. However, it may give a last minute boost for Benicio del Toro. The Reader, Kate Winslet’s other big film of the fall, will get attention for Winslet but has an uphill battle for other categories. Defiance, Daniel Craig’s upcoming Holocaust thriller, had some brief Oscar hopes that got deflated with mixed early screenings.
In the big crowd of Oscar bait films this December, Benjamin Button seems to be the biggest lock for major nominations, but is a very tentative favorite over Slumdog Millionaire. Critics seem ready to favor it, but their level of love for Benjamin Button may be divided, if early word is an indication. Doubt, Frost/Nixon and Revolutionary Road have solidified their lead actors’ Oscar hopes with early reviews, with Gran Torino possibly ready to do the same.
But along with Milk and The Dark Knight, it looks like six films will be scrambling for three Best Picture slots, with Benjamin Button and Slumdog Millionaire the two early locks. The advance critics have pointed out how these movies can rise and fall in the Oscar race. Now the audiences will decide in December if they share the same opinions.
In Contention- www.incontention.com
Awards Daily- www.awardsdaily.com
Hollywood Elsewhere- www.hollywood-elsewhere.com
Rotten Tomatoes- www.rottentomatoes.com